BBC gets complaints over Jackson coverage

Thursday, July 2 2009, 11:20 BST

By Andrew Laughlin

The BBC has received over 700 complaints from viewers about the amount of coverage it devoted to the death of Michael Jackson.

As news of the pop legend's passing broke last Thursday, the BBC News channel went into rolling format to cover the story.

Further coverage carried over into Friday and during the weekend, while there were also news specials aired on BBC One and BBC Two.

The corporation subsequently received 748 complaints about what was perceived by some viewers to be excessive coverage of his death.

However, a BBC spokesperson has since responded: "Michael Jackson's death was a huge international story covered extensively across the world.

"Some audiences have different levels of interest in some stories but we have to serve a wide range of audiences and undoubtedly a great many people were extremely interested. And, of course, other important stories domestically and internationally were covered on the day.

"The complaints have to be considered in the context of unprecedented figures: audiences for the television bulletins were up, BBC Online saw more than 8.2 million global unique users, the second highest since President Obama's election, and BBC news on mobile saw record numbers of people using the service with almost 2.5 million page views. There was also a record two million users of Audio Video on the News website."

Writing on the BBC News Editors' blog, head of BBC newsroom Mary Hockaday has also defended the output by saying that Jackson was a "huge figure internationally".

"We've had a number of complaints about our coverage, the main charge being that we simply did too much: that his death didn't justify the prominence and scale of our reporting through Friday and into the weekend," she wrote.

"The story was certainly very prominent, with extensive reporting on our domestic and global news channels and it was the lead story on our television and radio bulletins and on the web. But this wasn't to the exclusion of other important stories domestically and internationally. Friday was also the third day of our special coverage on television and our website from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Some stories divide audiences, and clearly there are those who aren't interested in Michael Jackson. But we have to try to serve a whole range of readers, listeners and viewers - and undoubtedly a great many of you were extremely interested."

Hockaday also said that the BBC would still report future developments associated with Jackson's death, but ensure to do this in a "proportionate manner where we think they are of relevance and interest to our audiences".

She added: "Throughout our coverage, we have been careful to sift fact from rumour and to assess Jackson's career as a musician and his impact as a creative singer and dancer, while not ignoring the more disturbing side to his life.

"This was a big news story - about the death of a big cultural icon - all around the world."

Meanwhile, an Ofcom spokesman told DS that the regulator has also received a "small number" of complaints about Jackson coverage in the news, but significantly fewer than the BBC.